Rowing Fast

By Bruce Kocher

In Rowing, Videos

September 29, 2009

Video Article

How do you get the best time for a 200-meter pull on a Concept2 rowing machine?

C2 master instructor Bruce Kocher teaches a group of athletes at CrossFit New England how to get the lowest time for the sprint distance, covering topics such as torso angle, damper settings and the all-important start.

“More is not better,” Kocher says of the oft-misunderstood damper. “Elite rowers row at five and below. Many train at zero. Nothing good happens above seven.”

Novices can often be more successful with a higher damper setting, but as technique and efficiency improve, a lower setting with be far better. With the damper set at five, Kocher talks about quickly moving the hands away from the body when the stroke is complete, stabilizing the midline throughout, and keeping the stroke fairly compact.

The start involves three quick pulls, the first from a position with the handle above the toes, the second from above the ankles, and the third from above the toes. After that you should slide into a longer but still very fast stroke for 200 meters of intense effort.

Kocher demonstrates the techniques and pulls a time just over 30 seconds—and then it’s Chris Spealler’s turn. Speal has one “false start” before getting nasty with the C2 and pulling a fast 200.

Video by Again Faster.

15min 00sec

Additional reading: Row Fast: How to Prepare for an Erg Test by Peter Dreissigacker, published Feb. 1, 2007.



17 Comments on “Rowing Fast”


wrote …

good info


wrote …

That was a great tutorial!


wrote …

I am male 205 6'4" 39.

I can do 1:28 500 and 6:58 2000 both of these are with the damper at 10 with a stroke rate between 20-25.

When I set the damper at 5 or below I can't get the times even close to those. What changes do you think should I make to get improvments in my times?


Robert Guere wrote …

Great video. Am I the only one who sees Bruce as a Steve Carell character?


Jesse Gray wrote …

Coming off the seat is an issue I have as well when really going hard. Other than scaling back my intensity are there any techniques or or equipment out there that can help me to stay on when giving short bursts of all out effort? Also, I think Bruce is wrong when he says there is no Crossfit WOD that takes advantage of a 200M type all out attack. In FGB you have at most a minute, sometimes less which I believe puts you right in the range of this type of rowing.


wrote …

If you Feel that you "Have to" have the Damper on 10 to get a good score that could be because you have a stroke rate that is too high. Feel free to call us at Concept2 and we can help shed some light on it. - Greg / Concept2


I think you should just work on your technique - specifically your work to recovery ratio (drive to recovery). The drive to recovery ratio should be 1 to 3. Video yourself and look compare yourself to elite olympic rowers. Good Luck.


wrote …

Lot's of great comments, thanks. Jesse: If you are coming off of the seat there are a couple of remedies. Try raising your feet one or two holes also focus on keeping your hands level to slightly raised as you come forward to the 'catch' and keep them there during the drive phase. Some athletes tend to dive down with their hands at the catch and it sets up a more vertical drive phase. These two things should fix most jumping off of the seat problems. As for FGB, not many people row all out during that minute. Most people use the rower as active recovery. Try sprinting all out for a minute on the rower and let me know how the rest of FGB goes for you. I predict pain...and a low overall score.

Aaron: You are a stud and clearly have solid connective tissue integrity. As you spend more time on the rower especially with a lower damper setting you should be able to improve your scores dramatically, especially in the 2k (sub 7 is an awesome time, but rowing at 20 spm on a 10 damper is like tugging a truck through mud uphill, not fun and only done if absolutely necessary). Try this drill: Warm up, set the damper on 5 and row at a moderate pace that you can hold for 2-5 minutes easy. Given your 2k time, I would suggest about 1:50-55 pace. Find the stroke rate window in the upper right of most displays. Keeping the pace the same, start lowering the stroke rate by hitting the catch and slowing the slide on the recovery. Work the rating down to around 14-16 spm while still holding the pace at around 1:50-55. Row along at this lower rating for a while and then start working the rating back up while still nailing the front part of the stroke. Your pace will drop or improve significantly, you will move faster and more efficiently and your lower back will be happy. Keep working the drill until the rating finds it's way up to about 28-30 spm and work it back down again. Cycle through a few times to tolerance, this drill gets very unfun very quickly but it will teach you efficiency and ratio.

Robert: Nice, I was only a 35 year old virgin.


replied to comment from Bruce Kocher

I will give this a try today. I spoke with Greg yesterday and he was very helpful as well. I should mention I am in Denver. I did a drag factor test and at damper 5 the drag is 94 at 10 it is 157 so that may play into the damper setting a little.

My lower back has never been an issue on the rower. Now my butt is a different story.


wrote …

Since Aaron mentioned it, are there any ratios for damper settings at altitude? Im at nearly 7k ft. More damper for less air drag?

Thanks for the help


replied to comment from Bruce Kocher

I tried your reccomendations and did 4 500s at stroke rates of 15, 20, 25, and 30 with the Damper set at 5 (drag factor of 94) holding a pace of about 1:50. After that I tried the 200 sprints again at 5 and 10 (drag factor 159) and also sampled a sub 7 minute 2K pace at both 5 and 10. I videoed these 4 efforts and posted them to our blog

If and when you get time to take a look I would appriciate any advice you could give me.


replied to comment from Bruce Kocher


Thanks for all the input. I will start implementing your comments tomorrow. I truely appriciate you taking the time to get back to me.


wrote …

Aaron--glad that you mentioned the actual drag factor, because a damper setting of 5 on different machines will have different drag factors (the "actual" damper setting). Two brand new machines should be pretty identical, but as they collect dust in the flywheel cover the airflow can be greatly reduced and the drag goes way down. I used a concept 2 at one gym that was so clogged up, there was barely any drag at a damper setting of 10!

Bruce--what is your opinion of rowing without the feet strapped in to emphasize leg drive?


wrote …

Thomas, drag factor is a whole 'nother topic. It's meaningful and important to know. From the mountain:

I am not a feet out of the foot stretcher guy. It can be a good drill for maintaining solid contact with the foot stretcher or 'flex foot assembly' in the vernacular. What I see mostly is people cutting the opening of their backs and cutting short the drive so that they don't flip over backwards. There are coaches that use it extensively, I'm just not one of them.

I love the kg force curve display for showing holes in the drive phase (should look like Mt Rainier). Also try rowing with legs only, no opening the back, no finishing with the arms. Just a drill, be nice to your knees and back.

Aaron, my pleasure. For those who didn't get that far, Aaron shot some nice video of his rowing and posted it to his affiliate blog: I made some comments. Nice rowing, nice website.


wrote …

Whoopsie, all links in the previous comment post are wfs. Some people just aren't trainable...


wrote …

Just completed my concept2 certification a couple of weeks ago... loosely you can go by the 1 to 10 damper settings on the rower, but setting the damper to 5 on one rower may not have the same drag factor as another rower (resulting in different times). You can always check it on each machine. They advise of rowing between 100 to 140 drag factor mostly for distance pieces, however for the shorter sprint pieces you can crank it up higher.


Eddie San Giacomo wrote …

Can someone please give some tips for Craig

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